I am a mid-career scientist at a government research organisation, and I am considering a move back into academia. My current employer is looking after me very well and I know I am valued, but I have a hankering for more intellectual freedom and more opportunity to work with students, especially graduate students. I've enjoyed the little bit of teaching that I have done.

I have 15 years post-PhD experience and have reached a fairly senior level - equivalent to a level D academic in Australia (perhaps equivalent to a newish full professor in the US). But I have much less teaching experience and a lower h-index than I would expect from an academic at my level. (My h-index is 14 and I am in the environmental sciences). Instead, I have spent a lot of time working closely with clients and government departments, managing people and large projects within my organisation, and working to demonstrate the real-world impact of my applied research. In short: my current employer has asked slightly different things of me than a university would. If I move back into academia, will these things be valued, or should I expect to take a demotion initially?

Finally, I am considering applying for a fixed-term (3 year) full professorship that I have recently seen advertised in a nearby research-intensive university. This would be a promotion if I were successful, but would come with a loss of job security. How would this be viewed on my CV if I were looking for another academic position in 3 years' time? Better or worse than staying where I am for those three years, and getting an internal promotion later?

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    I don't understand why someone would vote to close this question (as of this writing, I see one such vote). It seems to me that the question is a valid and nicely formulated question (+1), which fits well to Academia.SE. The only suggestion that I have for the OP is to emphasize the sub-questions either by separating them from the background text, or by using bold formatting style (or both). Feb 2, 2016 at 2:57
  • Thanks for the +1 and suggestions on how to improve my post! Feb 2, 2016 at 5:44
  • It's my pleasure! Feb 2, 2016 at 5:54
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    I've never heard of a "fixed-term full professorship". It may well exist. But if you're in the US, almost any 3-year position amounts at most to a sort of prestigious postdoc. Feb 2, 2016 at 8:26
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    In the US fixed term contracts for senior positions are rare while in the UK, and presumably AU, pretty common. This makes judging them difficult for Americans.
    – StrongBad
    Feb 4, 2016 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


In the US, it is highly common that researchers move back and forth between national labs and universities in almost all the fields I know or know of. Sometimes national lab jobs are also considered a good starting point of one's career than a usual tenure-track position that comes with lots of teaching, administrative duties and stress of getting the tenured in the end. National lab jobs being non-teaching positions by default gives more time to get serious research done during the early part of one's career. Hence he or she can project themselves better for a senior level (associate or full prof) positions at universities after 5-10 years. The national lab jobs are also usually permanent right from the beginning (I am not talking about postdoc positions or other junior and non-permanent positions at national labs), hence one can escape the tenure-track process for 5-6 years and usually can enjoy better work-life balance. Again all this is arguable from both sides of course. I believe this should also be true in Australia up to certain extent. However, the tricky thing in your question is the '3 years position' in academia. In this case, most things would depend on the possibility of transferring this position into a permanent position after 3 years. Such a position indeed looks good on cv specially if it is an endowed chair level position as you mentioned to get the next job. However, I am not sure how the job market in Australia is in your field. The good looks of the cv matters if there are jobs available to which you can apply.


I can only answer for the situation in Germany (where fixed-term full professorships indeed exist). There are two different situations:

  1. In engineering your route is basically the default route to a full professorship. You do a PhD, go working in a company for five years or more and then apply for professorships. (You may also do a postdoc before working at a company.) In other fields it is not very common to return from outside academia (the only field I know for sure is mathematics and there I don't know anybody who returned back to academia).
  2. For professors at "Fachhochschulen" (often translated as universities of applied sciences) it is similar but not only for engineering but also for other fields. Do a PhD, work in companies, apply for professorships at Fachhochschulen. In fact, for professorships at Fachhochschulen it is even required to have working experience outside academia. However, Fachhochschulen are not exactly research institutions but focus more on higher education in science and technology, preparing people to work in companies. For example, they do not grant a PhD (but this may change in the future).

I know this is a bit old now. However as you have mentioned Australia in the title -I will gove you an Australian perspective.

Don't leave a full-time continuing position in Australia for a contract position (even at professor level). You are likely to be out on your ear after the three years, unless you can bring significant dollars through the door. Given the behind the scenes cut-backs that take place in Australia government funded research, you will be struggling to get any funding if you are new to the system.


  • Good perspective, however a continuing position in Australia is no guarantee, either. Too many colleagues made redundant recently! Sep 1, 2016 at 5:53

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